Nicholas Jarecki is the young writer and director in whose new thriller, Arbitrage, Richard Gere shines as a New York financier whose life starts to unravel in spectacular fashion. After seemingly being trapped in a series of roles that have not really done him justice, it is difficult to keep your eyes off Gere in this movie. We caught up with Jarecki in the suitably plush locale of Claridges to get some insights into the film.
There are many good things one can say about the film, but foremost is Richard Gere’s remarkable performance. It feels like a career peak, but how did he manage it? “Richard is a fine actor,” Jarecki explains. “He came out of the gate and did so much great work early in his career. Days of Heaven with Terence Malick, American Gigolo with Paul Schrader, the man was directed by Kurosawa and Robert Altman! The list of directors he’s worked with is insane.” His inspiring portfolio, which includes early work on the stage, means that he “understands the craft of acting and he takes it very seriously.”
Despite this, Jarecki reckons Gere’s career became bedevilled by an issue more commonly associated with actresses. “He became known as a good-looking boy, and so he maybe wasn’t put in the same dramatic category.” This is where Arbitrage comes in. “You need the right role to unlock the actor’s gifts,” says Jarecki and his star was clear from the start that he wanted to “go darker”. This suited Jarecki fine, as he loved Gere’s performances where he wasn’t the romantic leading man.
The complex, ambiguous characters seen in the films made during New Hollywood era of the late 1960s and 1970s are a big inspiration for Jarecki. His bête noire is a screen-writing manual called ‘Save the Cat’ which suggests that successful Hollywood screenwriters must make sure their lead character saves a cat, or something similar, so audiences know they’re the good guy and we root for them. “I don’t look at it like a baseball game, I don’t have to root for someone, I have to be someone on his journey,” he explains. This is where he believes Richard Gere excels in Arbitrage, “he never tries to save the cat. He never asks you to feel bad for him, and he doesn’t need to be liked.”
It wasn’t just fearlessness that gave Gere’s performance its bite. He rehearsed for a month before shooting began and thoroughly researched the world of high finance. Jarecki and Gere went down to the New York Stock exchange where they quizzed the traders about their personal lives as well as work. This brought up some fascinating anecdotes, like the story of the man who had been brought to the verge of suicide by an impending jail term for financial crimes and a trader whose obsession with his job wouldn’t let him retire despite being 75.
Jarecki says he didn’t base Gere’s character, James Miller, on any particular billionaire, but his single-minded devotion to making money has echoes in a number of well known personalities. There is the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett (Miller is the Oracle of Gracie Square), mathematician hedge-funder James Simons, and the film starts with a prescient quote from John Paulson. Both Jarecki’s parents were traders too, which also fed into the script.